The No. 14 Arkansas Razorbacks opened their season Monday with a 93-59 blowout of the Alcorn State Braves, but coach Eric Musselman effectively used the contest as an exhibition-type game, giving extended minutes to multiple players.
Eleven Razorbacks played nine or more minutes in the contest. That likely won’t be the case going forward.
Razorbacks fans who remember legendary coach Nolan Richardson’s substitution patterns are used to seeing 10 or more Hogs get considerable playing time, but in his previous four seasons, Musselman has used a tighter core of six to eight Hogs to pull the bulk of the weight.
This Razorback squad is talented, deep, and experienced with six graduate transfers to go along with proven veterans like Devo Davis, Makhi Mitchell, and third-year sophomore Trevon Brazile, who is on the Naismith Trophy Watchlist for Player of the Year.
But Musselman let it be known following the blowout victory that Monday’s liberal substitution pattern won’t be the norm.
It seems since Musselman approached the Purdue exhibition more like an actual game with his rotation, his substitution pattern against the Braves was closer to that of an exhibition game.
Musselman said he wanted to get tape on as many players as possible before winnowing down the rotation.
Next up for the Razorbacks
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10
Where: Fayetteville, Ark.
Next 5 games
Nov. 13 – Old Dominion (SEC+)
Nov. 17 – UNC Greensboro (SEC+)
Nov. 22 – Stanford, Battle 4 Atlantis (ESPNU)
Nov. 23 – Memphis or Michigan, Battle 4 Atlantis (ESPNU)
Nov. 24 – TBD, Battle 4 Atlantis (ESPNU)
“We’re deep, but we’re not going to play 13 guys,” Musselman said. “Do we play nine or eight? … I want players to feel they can play through mistakes.”
Musselman flatly stated that the Razorbacks were playing their way into and out of the early season rotation by their play against Alcorn State.
Now, I’m not sure we can look at the minutes played against Alcorn State and guess exactly what that rotation might be.
Senior forward Mitchell only played 3:40 in the game, but there is no doubt his experience and talent will be put to good use by Musselman this season whether he is a starter or not. He is a key piece to this team.
Musselman said he would review the tape to help sort out the Hogs’ rotation. I’m guessing we’ll see the results of his assessment with the Hogs’ player rotation on Friday when the team plays host to Gardner-Webb and then on Monday when Old Dominion visits Walton Arena.
Musselman did say he wanted to see better rebounding from the point guard position. Senior El Ellis and fresh Layden Blocker combined for a goose egg in that category. Devo Davis grabbed five rebounds, but neither he nor Tramon Mark, who just had one rebound, played the point against Alcorn State.
Khalif Battle, who struggled with foot injuries in the summer, came off the bench to lead the Hogs in scoring 21 points. He showed deep range and a smooth stroke from the corner with three treys. He hit 5 of his 9 shots from the field and 8 of 9 free throws. Battle also grabbed three rebounds and dished out two assists against 3 turnovers.
Mark, who starred in the Purdue exhibition, added 16 points and 3 assists, but Brazile, who tore his ACL after a promising start to last December, thrilled fans with a first-half dunking display. Brazile finished with 13 points and 6 rebounds.
The Razorbacks held Alcorn State to just 39.2% shooting from the field, while the Hogs shot 51.9%.
The Hogs forced 16 turnovers, but suffered 15 themselves, thanks mostly to a sloppy second half after the Razorbacks had all but put the game away in the first, holding a 46-22 halftime lead.